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19 June 2016

Portugal: 'wines of the moment'

Quinta de la Rosa

Douro Valley

Quinta de Fafide Reserva 2013 (Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, 14% abv) - Fairly serious and concentrated, towards 'modern style' red with ripe berries and spice, firm but nicely textured tannins with a touch of oak. Marks & Spencer £10...

09 June 2016

Spain: Sherry and Jamón Ibérico



This sherry-and-ham-pairing piece stems from a fascinating 'masterclass' held in Dublin by embassy export body Wines & Foods from Spain; the words, jamón and sherries will be just as tasty now as they were then. Presented by César Saldana, Director of the Vinos de Jerez governing association, and Mario Hiraldo, master-carver and general Jamón Ibérico expert, which is arguably Spain's finest cured ham delicacy. The scrummy photo above was downloaded from actualidadgastronomica.es where there's an article (in Spanish) about it; and this site is good too, in English: www.jamon.com/iberico.

To start with, here are a few comments about the four different, and equally delicious sherries (all made from 100% Palomino fino variety) that were picked to match the various cuts of mouth-meltingly succulent Ibérico...

La Guita Manzanilla Bodega Hijos de Rainera Pérez Martín (15% abv) - Quite fresh and light with pungent yeast and chamomile notes vs tangy roasted salted almond flavours, very dry and refreshing.
Tio Pepe Fino 'en rama' González Byass (15% abv) - An 'unfiltered' version of the popular fino brand, this was a tad darker than the above with more intense yeasty and nutty characters, yet more rounded and fuller too with long intense yeasty and crisp finish.
Antique Palo Cortado Fernando de Castilla (20% abv) - "Made in the oloroso way using fino wines," was how César described this more obscure sherry style. More oxidised nose with walnut and 'varnish', intense and toasty with lingering pecan nut flavours vs crisp dry and structured.
Don Zoilo Oloroso 12 Years Williams & Humbert (19% abv) - Less dark than the above actually ("They top the barrels right up," so less / slower oxidation), fierier nose with hazelnut/walnut and 'furniture polish'(!), promises to be sweet but it isn't, smooth and rounded mouth-feel vs tangy and concentrated. Lovely.

Without rehashing the entire sherry production process, I've summarised a few key points from what César explained relating to how these classic styles are made. Fino is fortified to 15% (alcohol by volume), as it was discovered to be the perfect strength for the flor (the natural yeast that grows on top of the wine giving it much of its character) to survive and continue developing. 17% abv (or higher) kills flor so this is only done for wines that are already darker in colour and then classified as oloroso. He continued: "Fino is only possible because it isn't static: the young wines give it nutrients to survive." These wines from the latest harvest are called sobretabla and are fed into the top level of criadera ageing barrels used in the solera maturation process, where the wines at different stages are periodically drawn off and 'down' one level. Solera comes from the word for 'floor', as the bottom row contains wines that are ready for bottling; a maximum of one-third of these are drawn off at a time. "The flor also consumes glycerol (naturally present in wine, it gives a rounder 'sweeter' feel) giving (fino and manzanilla) drier flavour," César added.

"Ibérico pigs only come from the south-west of Spain... Serrano (ham) is from a cross-breed of European pigs," Mario enlightened us proudly, since that's where he's from. He explained how free-range the rearing of these pigs is - for the best Jamón Ibérico de Bellota or acorn fed ham - by pointing to St. Stephen's Green across the road: "Two pigs would have that much space!" These magnificent animals can grow up to 180 kg in weight but with "very thin legs," feeding on (lots of) organic encina acorns - this variety of evergreen oak or holly oak acorn tastes a little like chestnuts and contains "74% oleic acid," (the predominant unsaturated fat in olive oil).
This is why "the fat (on the ham) is good quality, because of the healthy pigs and acorn acids," Mario continued. "There are less calories in 100 grams of Ibérico than a can of diet coke!" he joked; you can see his point though, for a man who says he eats some of this sensational ham "every day," he is indeed slim. "And Ibérico is never the same from one producer to another." The ham he carved for us that day had been maturing for three and a half years (only salt is added, no artificial preservatives like most other hams) - "It gets darker and more intense as you go up the leg," remembering it's hung upside-down. "The different shapes and marbling give different flavours," he added.
The first cut - called La Caña - is from the 'top', i.e. the lowest part of the upper leg where there's less salt (this slowly travels down, or rather up through the leg as it ages), which tasted soft and melt-in-the-mouth and seemed to match the Fino and Manzanilla well. The second - Babilla from the rump end - where the fat actually melts on your hand at room temperature - tasted more intense with chunkier texture. The Contramaza was delicious with the Oloroso, a sweeter meatier and 'fattier' cut but not fatty tasting; and the Maza or Jarrete is the thickest driest and meatiest piece. La Punta, the hip, is the most intensely flavoured and saltier with lovely mature cheese type aromas.
I checked the facts, spellings and which cut was which as best I could - any Ibérico experts reading this, feel free to correct me if not...

04 June 2016

English Wine Week and wine guide

From www.lymebaywinery.co.uk

To mark ‘English Wine Week’ 2016 (to 5th June), I’ve done the second comprehensive update this year to my English wine mini-guide to include a couple of new names on the English wine scene, small and so far quite hush-hush, and a couple of conspicuously missing big names: Exton Park Vineyard (Hampshire), Sixteen Ridges (Worcestershire & Herefordshire), Denbies Wine Estate (Surrey), Lyme Bay Winery (Devon). And, for the first time, broadened the reach to take in ‘still’ whites, rosés and reds (the focus had previously been just on 'traditional method' sparklers).
This latter wine 'offering' used to be dominated by several lesser-known and Germanic sounding grape varieties – and some of them can make good wine e.g. Bacchus, Ortega, Reichensteiner – but, while tasting on the English Wine Producers stand at the recent London Wine Trade fair (along with a lot of other people it has to be said), it became clear that there’s an increasing amount of good quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir coming our way. Not surprising perhaps, when you read (see guide for details) that these two ‘Champagne’ varieties are now the most planted, especially across southern England for creating traditional method fizz. So it makes absolute sense to offer wine consumers recognisable non-sparkling styles too from very recognisable varieties, particularly as some of these are rather tasty in an English ‘Chablis style’ for Chardonnay and light aromatic ‘Burgundy style’, or not dissimilar to certain 'German style', Pinot Noir reds. The main problem is the usual UK wine production dilemma: relatively small quantities mean prices remain quite high.
I’ve updated some of the existing winery profiles in this guide as well, with new vintage releases and labels which have also been highlighted: e.g. Hattingley Valley (Hampshire), Hush Heath Estate Winery (Kent), Chapel Down Winery (Kent), Furleigh Estate (Dorset). Buy the full-works 20-page PDF magazine for £1.99 using the PayPal button below to pay by card or using your own account (select it in drop-down menu).


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More info on English Wine Week: englishwineproducers.co.uk.

24 May 2016

Wine Education Service NI: new dates added in Belfast

The fully updated programme of wine tastings, wine workshops and wine courses scheduled in Belfast from summer 2016 to spring 2017 is (drum roll)...

Friday 1 July 6.45-8.30pm Champagne & sparkling wine tasting £36
We'll sample and compare six top-notch bottles of fizz from around the wine cosmos, including well-known favourites such as Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, alongside a few eye-openers from the Southern Hemisphere like New Zealand, Australia or South Africa... Add some sparkle to your weekend!

10 May 2016

France: 'wines of the moment'

Burgundy

Domaine Marguerite Dupasquier Rully blanc 2013 (13% abv) - I bought a few bottles of this over a year ago (click to see note made on International Chardonnay Day last May); this was the last one and what a revelation. Buttery and almost exotic with light toasty coconut edges, nicely rounded and creamy yet still has some fresh bite too. £10.50 Asda.

Champagne

P. Desroches Brut non-vintage (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, 12%) - Made by the Nicolas Feuillatte winery actually, this stylish well-made crowd-pleaser confirms that Marks & Spencer know what they're doing on the Champers front. Elegant yet toasty/yeasty, eminently drinkable at £14.50 on offer! It supposedly usually costs £29, but I wouldn't pay that for it. Funny how the other multiple grocers, including Tesco who was the worst offender, have stopped doing these so-called (and dishonest) half-price deals (which blatantly aren't), but Marks is still doing it on certain Champers labels anyway. Mustn't grumble ah.
Buy my Champagne e-supplement HERE.

Languedoc

Alain Grignon Carignan Sélection Vieilles Vignes 2013, Pays d'Hérault (12.5%) - Attractive example of the fashion for making varietal reds from old-vine Carignan, this is aromatic and quite soft with fairly intense berry fruit flavours. Dunne's €12.50/€9 on offer in the Republic/about £9-£10 in Belfast? (Most of Dunne's NI stores aren't licensed it appears).
Laurent Miquel Syrah 'special edition' 2014, Pays d'Oc (13%) - Lovely pure peppery black cherry fruit with a light bitter twist of tannin on the palate, plenty of sexy Syrah style but reasonably subtle with it. Dunne's €9 on offer.
Domaine Jones
Fitou 2014 (old vine Carignan, Grenache, Syrah from 15 small plots; 14.5%) - Concentrated (blue)berry fruit with uplifting crunchy vs sweet profile mix, lively spicy and powerful finish. £87-£95 case of 6 (depending on mix).
Blanc Barrique 2010 (Grenache gris, 13.5%) - The follow up vintage to apparently a 'by accident' barrel-aged white, made in limited quantities, this is quite oaky to start yet has delicious nutty oxidised and oily characters and rounded texture, unusual and tasty. £80 for 6.
Château l'Argentier E&F Jourdan Cinsault Vieilles Vignes 2014 (old vines) - Lovely aromatic sweet fruit, soft and oily palate although actually pretty concentrated with mature vs fresh finish. £14.99 Red Squirrel Wine.
Château Montfin Saint-Jacques 2014 Corbières blanc (Roussanne, Grenache blanc, organic) - Concentrated and intense dry white, zingy yeast-lees notes vs oily rounded mouth-feel, lovely wine. £90 for 6 Joie de Vin. More Montfin HERE.

More of the latest from the Jones', Argentier, Montfin and lots more besides from the Languedoc to follow as an update to my 'French wine tasting and touring' e-magazine (drawn from extensive tastings at the recent 'Outsiders' tasting in Dublin and at the London Wine Fair)...

Bordeaux and the South-West

Château Lassègue Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2006 (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.5% abv) - This posh chateau is found lurking among some of the Saint-Emilion region's best vineyard sites, and is part of the Jackson Family Wines' group, "a collection of premium wineries owned privately by Barbara Banke and the Jackson family," the blurb says, probably better known for their West Coast US wines. Still dense and quite oaky for a ten year-old red, although with distinct brownish hints to its otherwise dark colour, it shows a classy mix of lush plummy fruit, maturing meaty notes and spicy nicely textured oak/tannin combo to finish. c. £25 a bottle - £152 for a case of 6 from closcru.com.
Domaine de la Maletie Monbazillac 2013 (Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc, 12.5%) - Bargain Sauternes replacement made in the same way but in Monbazillac on the Dordogne River in the Bergerac region. Delicious exotic apricot marmalade nose with spicy 'volatile' edges, lush and sweet but with nicely balanced freshness and lighter touch. £7.99 Lidl.
Combel la Serre 'Pur Fruit de Causse' 2014 Cahors (Malbec, 12.5%) - Alluring fruity 'funky' nose, very Malbec berry and spice style though with light bite and grip. £13.99 Red Squirrel Wine. Update on CLS to follow, and lots more Cahors HERE.

Alsace

JP Muller 2012 Riesling Engelberg Grand Cru (12.5%) - Pretty classy dry white at this price: classic developing Riesling nose with aromatic oily 'mineral' notes, similar maturing palate profile yet still quite concentrated with some fresh bite and elegant finish. €12.99/€9.99 on offer Lidl (Ireland).

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